All Ears

Sitting on the seat at the front of the bus is fun. You get to watch the road ahead which helps to pass the time. You also get to hear snatches of conversation from people about to get off. Here is a fragment from midnight last night which got me wondering how the conversation continued:

He:      So what did you expect from this evening?

She:    That elusive spark.

Have you overheard any intriguing titbits recently?


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Image: Beer: Simple



Guiding Spirits

I regard organised religion as more of a dividing than a unifying force but I share with those who are religious an overwhelming desire to express thankfulness. Naturally I am grateful to family and friends but beyond them I would like to salute all the men and women whose energetic effort, excellent example and power to Elevate have enriched my life immeasurably.

I may have left out a few but this is the best I could manage in half an hour. It’s not much to give for a lifetime of encouragement.

Jane Austen 
Samuel Beckett 
William Blake 
Jorge Luis Borges 
Ray Bradbury 
Emily Bronte 
Big Bill Broonzy 
Arthur Brown 
Lenny Bruce 
Gautama Buddha 
William Burroughs
Samuel Butler 
Italo Calvino 
Bill Carlin 
Leonora Carrington 
Lewis Carroll 
Rachel Carson 
Miguel de Cervantes 
Anton Chekhov 
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 
Peter Cook 
Marie Curie 
Charles Darwin 
Ray Davies 
Richard Dawkins 
Charles Dickens 
Emily Dickinson 
Bob Dylan 
TS Eliot 
Harry Enfield 
Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot) 
Ella Fitzgerald 
Anne Frank 
Mahatma Gandhi 
Khalil Gibran 
Alan Ginsberg 
Jane Goodall 
Kenneth Grahame 
Jimi Hendrix 
Bill Hicks 
Christopher Hitchens 
Billie Holiday 
Barry Humphries 
Aldous Huxley 
James Joyce 
Carl Jung 
Franz Kafka 
Frida Kahlo 
Paul Kantner 
John Keats 
Jack Kerouac 
Martin Luther King 
Rudyard Kipling 
Philip Larkin
DH Lawrence 
Edward Lear 
Ursula Le Guin 
John Lennon 
Abraham Lincoln 
Nelson Mandela 
Katherine Mansfield 
Bob Marley 
Spike Milligan 
Dudley Moore 
Jim Morrison 
Van Morrison 
Arthur Miller 
AA Milne 
Joni Mitchell 
Friedrich Nietzsche 
Florence Nightingale 
Flann O'Brien 
Joe Orton 
George Orwell 
Wilfred Owen 
Emmeline Pankhurst 
Rosa Parks 
Louis Pasteur 
Edgar Allen Poe 
Richard Pryor 
Queen Elizabeth I 
Francois Rabelais 
Arthur Rimbaud 
Christina Rossetti 
Mary Seacole 
WG Sebald 
Mary Shelley 
Percy Bysshe Shelley 
William Shakespeare
Grace Slick
John Steinbeck 
Lawrence Sterne 
Robert Louis Stevenson 
Marie Stopes 
Tom Stoppard 
Dylan Thomas 
EP Thompson 
Thomas Traherne 
Harriet Tubman 
Leonardo da Vinci 
Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) 
Kurt Vonnegut 
HG Wells 
Oscar Wilde 
Hank Williams 
Tennessee Williams 
Virginia Wood 
Virginia Woolf 
William Wordsworth 
Neil Young 
Malala Yousafzai 
Frank Zappa


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Image: Pinterest

Under Cover

The jocular tone of my previous post masked a deeper unease.

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For some reason, I’m finding it increasingly hard to write at any length. It feels as if joining up ideas has become, well, unfashionable. Old hat. Yesterday’s news.

Today it’s all about soundbites, slogans, headlines, jingles, tweets – short stuff that can be repeated over and over until it sounds like something you’ve thought up yourself. It’s rather like being in some great big whispering gallery.

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As social animals, we are attuned to voices. And our natural instinct is to be loyal to others. When their voices become fragmented, our own inner voices break out in sympathy.

According to The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron, seven inner voices are the enemies of creativity:

  • the procrastinator says later
  • the victim asks why me?
  • the talker dissipates the urge
  • the critic makes us nervous
  • the judge deems the act unworthy
  • the author is obsessed with reception
  • the capricious guest is inspiration

As for me, I’m going to start tomorrow – if the noisy numbskulls around here will let me – and what I write is going to be the life-changing story of absolutely everything unless of course it’s been done many times before by better writers than me, there isn’t something more useful I could be doing and there isn’t a chance in hell anybody might want to read it even supposing that damned elusive muse condescends to pay me a flying visit …

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Oh well, while I’m waiting, perhaps I’ll stick to the short stuff. If you can’t beat ’em join ’em, eh?

Regular readers will know that I’m fond of keeping it short. Acrostic poems, haiku, 100 word stories – all of them over, almost, before they’ve begun!

Blink and you’ll miss them. But I like the idea that you can capture a whole world in a small space. And focussing on technical constraints like word and syllable counts can stop you stressing about content.

How not what.

Them wide open spaces give me the heebie-jeebies. Not enough cover. Too easy for them to pick you off.

Unless, of course, you go by train …


The Whitsun Weddings

By Philip Larkin
That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
    Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.
All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
    For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.
At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
    The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading. Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,
As if out on the end of an event
    Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that
Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
    Yes, from cafés
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never known
Success so huge and wholly farcical;
    The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.
Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem
Just long enough to settle hats and say
I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
—An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to bowl—and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:
There we were aimed. And as we raced across
    Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Travelling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

Source of Fake News Found!

Sometimes starting a new post is like turning over an exam paper to find there isn’t a single question you can answer. Like poor Manuel in Fawlty Towers, you know nothing.

Just such a calamity is described in a 1954 book The Exam Secret by one Dennis B. Jackson, BA (Hons):

What are you to do? Gaze blankly at the ceiling, awaiting divine inspiration? Panic madly? Sit gibbering? Hand in your papers and stalk out of the room grumpily? Throw a fit? Vomit? Despair?

No! You must do none of these. The situation is vital. There is a battle to be won. And the great weapon in your armoury is – “The Gentle Art of Bluff”.

You must “waffle”. And you must choose good questions suitable for “waffling” …

I well remember my dad chucking this book in the bin when he read this rather  questionable advice. My dad was an honourable and conscientious man who would have done enough work to answer every conceivable question they threw at him. By contrast, I tended to skimp on revision and was curiously attracted by the idea of lying to the examiners – which is what Dennis B. Jackson, BA (Hons) advocated.

He blithely suggested the unprepared candidate make up bogus quotations by imaginary experts while entertaining the examiner with plenty of little jokes and anecdotes. All would be well as long as you sounded purposeful and kept saying you were answering the question when you obviously weren’t. Helpfully, he provided a sample answer with lots of outrageous bluffing.

Hmm, so this is where all the trouble started!

Recently I picked up a second-hand copy of this book – a later edition – and noticed the following footnote from the publisher:

It is not the job of a publisher to be a censor … My own view is that exams are about the most beastly test which man has yet devised, and it’s time he found some truer method. Thus I feel the pupil’s integrity is not seriously damaged by the use of bluff when short of knowledge.

The point I want to make is rather to warn all that I think most of us would have to be awfully careful, especially in making up quotations, not to have our bluff discovered. Few are so gifted as the author of our book!

What a spoilsport! He admits himself the system is unfair. Well, I for one will continue to write about things I know nothing whatsoever about so long as the world keeps sending me questions I can’t even begin to answer …


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Image: Swanwick Hall

Yer What?

My mini-fest of acrostic poems comes to an end with this response to the WordPress Daily Prompt Rhyme.

It seems to need a final line – or a few of them – all contributions welcome, the more the merrier!


R iderless, a word stampede gets worse –
H uman, then, to rein it into verse.
Y ou may love to babble on prosecco –
M e, I get my kicks from verbal echo.
E veryone’s a poet now, they say –


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Image: David Byrne



M illions of voters can’t be wrong,
A s once again they fall for the
G uy with the wild eye who
N ames and shames the traitors in the nest.
E lection over,
T hey wake to news that guilty blame
I s shared more widely than they’d dreamed.
C harisma cannot face the light of day.


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Image: Mirror

Stimulus: WordPress Daily Prompt Magnetic

Anthem to our Ancestors

My week of responding to the WordPress Daily Prompt continues with this Homage to generations past and future:


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H ere’s to the unsung lives
O f you, our countless forebears, unknown
M akers of our hearts
A nd minds.  May we
G race the world that once you walked,
E ver mindful of those who are still to come.


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Images: V&A Collections and Redfin